One of the questions I have gotten most is some version of "Where should my kid play?" or "What do you think of so and so as a coach?" Here are some absolutes, and my opinions at different stages of a kids experience.  My viewpoint is based on a player who needs to continue to develop but who is also playing baseball hoping for a future of some kind in it.  And before we start, let me readily acknowledge that in most cases coaches are sincere in their efforts, even in their misguided ones;)

Little League/ Rec Ball
Yes, I have gotten questions about coaches even in this stage of the game.  Here's the deal.  Please take what you get at this stage.  You may not like the coach, but your child should be required (by you) to show respect and to follow the coach's direction.  This is where I believe a player's baseball character begins to be formed.  These coaches are NOT going to usually be great.  But it doesn't matter.  If you are leaving your kids development to a tee ball or little league coach anyway you aren't being as active as you need to be.  Find someone who cares about the kids enjoying the game if you can, and cheer your head off, and celebrate EFFORT.  The sooner you teach your son its the EFFORT not the RESULT that is going to be celebrated, the better.  This is where YOU should be involved, whether or not you really know anything.  Start to learn.  Not from the coaches necessarily, and not from someone who wants you to spend $100 a week on his lessons, but seek out true experts- and pick out some basics to teach your son.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  If you are lucky enough to have a great coach volunteering time in your league good for you.  If you can, choose someone who is going to encourage, and who is going to require focus and readiness but who doesn't expect success everytime (if he does, clue number one he doesn't understand baseball).  And if you can, choose a coach who's son is very good so that there is less of a chance of the whole daddy ball disaster! Usually if a dad isn't insecure about his own son's performance or spot on a team, the dad is more able to objectively see the strengths of the other players.  Ideally, a coach at this age is going to find fun ways to repeat fundamentals over and over and over.  A coach that is too into plays or hitting style is a)probably too into this and b) going to be really upset a lot, since you can't execute cutoffs and relays, for example, until players can consistently catch and throw...

Youth levels of travel ball
Oh, this is where the fun starts.  As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, youth baseball is a mess. ANYONE can start a team, call it elite, and scare people into thinking that without them their 10 year old is done before he even started.  This 10-14 year old experience sets the stage for how prepared your son will be during high school and scout based travel teams and can very easily be the beginning of the end for a player.  During the time my older son was involved in this age group I learned some things:
  • A good evaluator can see at these early ages whether there is going to be big time potential in the player (Dante put together a 13-14 year old team and on that team there were 9 eventual D1 players and 4 out of HS pro guys)
  • Most parents are not good evaluators
  • This time frame can burn a kid out if parents are too involved or tied up in the success their son has
  • Not every awesome kid at this level stays awesome and many ok players eventually become the best(the team we "always" lost to produced 2 college players)
  • Coaching at this level sets the tone for a player's future, in my opinion.
My absolute rule of thumbs:

  1. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD PLAY FOR A DAD/COACH UNLESS HIS SON IS ABSOLUTELY ONE OF THE BEST PLAYERS ON HIS TEAM. Pay close attention here.  The travel ball world seems to be run by two segments- those trying to make a living off it and those trying to keep their son's chances to play alive.  Because as soon as someone is unhappy with how their son is used on a team, that father can easily start another team, beware of falling for the "we are interested in having fun" speech.  If you are interested in fun first, don't quit league ball for a travel team that will cost you ten times as much to play at the same level.  Be smarter than that.
  2. Find a coach committed to playing above age level, or at least that is ok with being beat.  If your coach is about the titles his team wins, that means you might spend a lot of money to sit the bench if you are struggling or to find yourself replaced during every big tournament by a mercenary brought in to secure a championship.  OR, WORSE, you could find yourself only playing teams that you are better than.  There's no challenge or development in that.  We worked hard to always put our kids in a situation where when they played their best they sort of naturally won 2 and lost 1.  At the 14 year old level especially, you might just win a lot because there aren't really older teams available during the high school season to play.  But anyway, MAKE SURE YOUR COACH IS NOT CHASING TROPHIES.
  3. Find a coach that offers as much practice time AS A TEAM as is possible.  This is a time to learn to win as a team.  To sacrifice yourself for the team, etc.  Many of the "best" teams are just a collection of studs who can play horribly with no interest in the nuances of the game and with no execution of fundamentals but just blow people away with a fast ball, buckle kids with a curve ball, or crush a BP level pitch from their opponents.  A coach who is ok with this because it results in a W is shortsighted and in my opinion, NOT where you want to put your kid.  Find a TEAM that your player can either learn to keep up with, or sometimes even more importantly, learn to carry.  Especially if yours is the STUD, he needs to be with someone who is going to hold him accountable even when his 50% effort gets the job done.  Because, eventually, his being satisfied with his 50% effort will get him a spot on the bench or off the team.  Remember the BIG picture and do not get caught up in being the best 10-14U player. 

High School

Let me just say that I believe High School baseball, as we know it is going to change.  As I said in one of my first posts, the early emphasis on travel ball has made High School ball sot of a step back in many areas of development.  It doesn't have to be this way, but we are in this sort of transition period where the excitement to play for your local school often disappears under a cloud of old school sort of negative coaching styles, or the politics of the booster club.  A 14U "Elite" player wouldn't dream of playing league ball but then in HS he finds himself spending the spring season with the kids from his league ball days.  Many HS coaches have a very hard time embracing travel ball, some even ban their players from summer teams.  Many haven't kept up with the changing baseball scene and refuse to consider the different needs of their players.  Others don't understand that High School ball isn't going to "get a player seen" anymore- recruiters and scouts will show up for a kids senior season because of what that player has done in the summer or fall on his travel team.  To be very clear, I don't lump all coaches in this description.  Some are GREAT and understand their new role. Still whereas ten years ago the small private schools in our area were sort of a joke baseball wise, kids are leaving for them in droves now, looking for more opportunity to play with kids from different areas during the high school season.  So IF you can have a say- IF you can look at a school's baseball program as a determining factor when choosing your son's High School what do you look for?

  • Someone who has had experience with travel ball
  • Someone who understands that the High School season is going to prepare your son for the summer season with his chosen summer team
  • Someone who is able to stand up to the booster club parents, and who has shown enough backbone to play the best players
  • Someone who runs organized and purposeful practices that still allow for the extra work a elite player is going to do on his own
  • Someone who is confident enough in himself that the fact your son wants to work outside of his practices is ok, even welcomed
  • LACK OF EGO.  Beware when choosing a coach of the one that reminds you over and over he "played college, or pro ball".  This person thinks having played beyond high school makes him better in some way.  Look for quiet confidence because then his mission will likely not be to prove his knowledge. 
  • Someone who has been involved with a higher level of ball.  He doesn't have to have has success in the big leagues, obviously we can't all have that in a coach.  But if he did play or coach beyond High School he probably understands the game at another level. He also hopefully knows that your son plays baseball and should work on baseball.  I see too many coaches who really aren't sure what to do with kids and so they just run, in the name of discipline, and have to practice on their own after practice.
  • Someone who is consistent with his rules, encouragement and discipline.  Again, if you can research, look for some sort of confidence.  If he bad mouths other programs or coaches, he probably is worried about how he measures up.  If he lacks confidence he will probably make your son hate baseball in no time at all because his emphasis will be  (like that of MOST insecure people) in tearing your son down instead of building him up.
High School level scout teams
Just reminding you that because I am separating the stages of coaching like I amI am in no way endorsing the process- I am just accepting it and letting you know what to look for in your coach as you go.  So here we are:  Those elite scout teams, that often aren't.  What I mean, is that when, in a MLB draft, which does represent the elite in your class, you have maybe 400-500 ish High School seniors chosenthen you have that many elite kids in that graduating class.  Let's be generous and tack on 100 that weren't chosen because they just really were headed to school.  So out of a 1500 kid draft, we have 600 elite 18 year olds.  Remember that padded number.  Because, as you follow this road with your son, you will participate in "Must attend, elite" tournaments with 150 teams from ONE AGE GROUP, 15 kids per team....2250 "Elite" players.  UM, no.  That's around 1800 kids paying to play so the truly elite kids can be on whatever team lets them be the short stop or the catcher or whatever he needs. 

That said.  If your kid is one of the 1800 in this scenario, PLEASE:  Do not chase the team you think you are supposed to be on.  You will not get a college offer or a pro opportunity because you sit the bench for the best team or you are on a C team for a big organization.  If your son's not a "guy" yet and wants to be, KEEP WORKING.  Find a team that practices, with a coach who is going to demand effort, and for who you WILL PLAY.  That's your only chance to become one of the 400-500. Refuse to buy into the hype of an organization.  A coach or a head of an organization can't worry about calling colleges or talking to scouts for 90 players.  Fight the urge to run around saying your kid is on some fancy team and find someone who can get him better.

If your kid is one of the 400-500, then your challenge is a little different. I'd venture to say the MAJORITY of these kids work outside their team, but I still feel they need to be with a coach that practices because now these kids fight the hype and fight allowing themselves to think they've got it made.  They need to remember this is a team sport.  In this case, let's say you understand all that and you are about getting your son the most exposure, now that he's ready for that, then find someone who works his butt off for his kids.  NOT someone who nickel and dimes you everytime you want more information or more help.  Look for someone who is in it for the benefit of the kids.  Check his track record with college placement.  It might be super impressive that his kids commit early to big schools, but follow up.  Did they go?  Did they play?  DId they STAY (Were they really ready)?  You'll be surprised.  Many programs encourage kids to do things so that the coach can put it on the website and recruit the next wave of young kids.  But their advice is uneducated and self serving and you won't know that until its too late for your son unless you research at the onset.  Its not too hard to find out if a coach is in it for every penny he can get out of parents scared to buck the system or if he's really a player advocate.  You just need to talk to people who have gone through various programs in your area.  And double check everything you are told. 

Here's that confidence thing again- What I have noticed is that the most confident coaches have no problem speaking well of other coaches and programs.  They aren't afraid of losing kids because they know they do a good job and they know they can't be there for everyone.  Stay away from the coaches that bad mouth other programs or that promise you they'll "get" you anything, but BETTER.  They can't force a college offer for you and they sure as heck can't draft you.  And if they promise to get you better it shouldn't cost even more than the small fortune you already pay just to participate.  Finally, if you are with a coach and feel at ALL like you "can't " leave him and his program, LEAVE.  And find someone who doesn't try to keep you despite what might be best for you.  If a coach thinks he is the best for EVERYONE, the ego is probably covering for the lack of confidence in what he does.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a good coach is his ability to see strengths in various types of players.  Whatever level your son plays, keep looking if its the coach's way or the highway.  In the history of baseball, too many people have gotten it done too many different ways.  Find someone who has the willingness to get the most out of your son's natural tendencies. Sometimes it takes time to test that one out and often, coaching changes should be made- trust your judgement.